The Next True Crime Show Could Be About JonBenet

by S. Atkinson

Just one day after NBC cashed in on the true crime trend by greenlighting the anthology series Law & Order: True Crime , The Hollywood Reporter reported that CBS is in final negotiations to produce its own limited run unscripted true crime show focusing on the murder of 6-year-old JonBenét Ramsey. It is speculated that the series could debut this fall, which would be appropriate timing, since this year marks the 20th anniversary of Ramsey's death. The series will bring together the original investigators on the case along with new experts. But beyond that, the fact that CBS is getting into the true crime genre following cable (FX's American Crime Story) and subscription services' (HBO's The Jinx and Netflix's Making A Murderer) successes in the genre suggests that true crime is the name of the television game.

For those who didn't grow up watching the true story unfold on their televisions in the late '90s: Ramsey was a frequent contestant in beauty pageants, and after her body was found in the basement of the family home in Boulder, Colorado in 1996, her older brother and parents were accused of the murder. They were later completely cleared in 2008 after DNA testing, and the case remains unsolved to this day. In response to prosecutors clearing him, his late wife Patsy, and their son, Burke, of suspicions, John Ramsay told Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV in 2008:

I think the people that are in charge of the investigation are focused on that, and that gives me a lot of comfort... certainly we are grateful that they acknowledged that we, based on that, certainly could not have been involved. But the most important thing is that we now have very, very solid evidence — and that’s always been my hope, at least in the recent past — that would lead us to the killer eventually.

Given the recent runaway successes of shows like Making A Murderer, The People v. O.J. Simpson, HBO's The Jinx — and of course, the one that started the true crime obsession, Serial — it makes sense that this show would come about now. In a bizarre twist, this isn't the first time the case has garnered media attention in the past year. A crackpot theory recently made the rounds on the Internet and brought renewed interest in the case even prior to CBS's plans to produce the show. Conspiracy theorist Dave Johnson argued in December 2014 that JonBenét Ramsey never died and that she grew up to be Katy Perry. When The Kernel reported on the video in February, the video in question jumped from having "more than 27,000 views" to over 2 million and counting.


While the thought of a murder being investigated all over TV purely to jump on an entertainment bandwagon could veer into insensitive territory, the fact that the show is being made could be a positive development. In a recent Adweek article about the rise of crime documentaries, journalism professor and Peabody judge Henry Jenkins said, "These programs are stepping up at the same moment when newspapers and network television are defunding the kinds of independent units that can produce and sustain long-form journalism." And, as the frantic level of activity on Reddit during Serial Season 1 testifies, the attention of an audience of millions can mean uncovering of new evidence and theories. Here's hoping CBS' series does that for Ramsey, too.